During March Madness, there are almost no certainties.
That extended to the University of Dayton, who despite not appearing on any major preseason college basketball rankings, appeared to be positioned for postseason success.
“Our staff thought this team could be good, but we didn’t know how good they could be,” Jonathan Asher, Dayton’s assistant director of content creation, said. “Maybe we’re cracking the Top 25, but it was not until we went to Maui. We played well right there, we went to overtime with Kansas, and everybody’s claiming Dayton is one of the top teams in the country.”
Dayton finished the 2018-2019 season with a 21-12 record and an NIT appearance. Starting the 2019-2020 season at the 2019 Maui Invitational Tournament, the Flyers narrowly lost to Kansas in the championship game
Both the players and the social media used that success as a launching point to quickly build things up this season.
By March 12, the Flyers had turned from a preseason afterthought to a national championship contender, flaunting a 29-2 overall record and a projected #1 seed in the 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
The team’s improved performance on-the-court translated on social media. On Instagram, the Flyers’ basketball team had roughly 14,000 followers ahead of its regular-season opener on November 9. That number had roughly been the same since about 2014, Asher said.
In a matter of months, Dayton’s Instagram following more than doubled to over 29,600. It is seeing more than 30,000 profile visits per week – up from roughly 17,000 during the preseason, Asher said. Its reach has also eclipsed the 30,000 person per post mark, after never surpassing 10,000 in seasons past.
Dayton also generated 157,000 interactions – likes and comments – between March 2 and 8, the ninth-most of any men’s college basketball program during that time frame, according to SkullSparks.
Unfortunately, any opportunity for Dayton to ride a successful March Madness campaign to social success is no longer possible. With March Madness now canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, it also washed away weeks of potential content for Dayton to release as it made its push for the national title, Asher said.
In preparing for a tournament run, the team looked at both college basketball and football teams – for example, LSU – for creative inspiration, Asher said. Although it was robbed of a postseason appearance, Dayton released Sunday night an LSU-esque cinematic video featuring alum Dan Patrick.
Future narration videos will include former Dayton native Martin Sheen and Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, Asher said. There was also an offer out to Grammy Award-winner and Springfield, Oh., native John Legend to narrate one of the Flyers’ videos.
“He got back to us, but he said [no] because of his ties with Ohio State,” Asher said. “I will take that if you get rejected by John Legend.”
While the Flyers’ dreams of March Madness came short in 2020, this season will still be remembered on social media. As March progresses, much of the team’s social media accounts will have highlight reels detailing the highs from this year, Asher said.
“We kind of joke around the office – our social media strategy is a shove-it-down-your-throat mentality,” Asher said. “We want everybody to see this team. If it’s annoying to some people, at least they see what Dayton is doing because we wanted to put Dayton on a map.”
Many will not forget college basketball’s abrupt ending this year, but Asher doesn’t see it being lost on college basketball fans who follow the sport on social media.
“They had a phenomenal year, and it could be considered one of the best teams in Dayton history,” Asher said. “We want to continue to show that through social media. Everybody loved this team and wished they could still play today. We can’t take back what has happened, but instead, we can continue to show what this team did and how the community is proud of them.”